Girl testifies she was repeatedly kissed and groped by D.C. Catholic priest

By Paul Duggan
August 07, 2019

The Rev. Urbano Vazquez prepares for a Mass in October 2018. He is accused of multiple counts of child sexual abuse.
Photo by Matt McClain

A 12-year-old girl, speaking barely above a whisper in D.C. Superior Court, testified Wednesday that as a second-grader, she studied the life of a Catholic saint who had been a nun. “And I got inspired,” she said. She was 8 at the time. She told a jury that back then, she decided she wanted to be a nun, too, someday.

But she doesn’t feel that way now.

“When did you change your mind?” a prosecutor asked.

“When everything started,” she replied, meaning in 2016, when she was 9 and a parish priest, the Rev. Urbano Vazquez, then 44, allegedly kissed her on the mouth and “touched me on my private parts.” She said he kissed and groped her repeatedly over a span of months.

And she lost interest in a life of religious vocation.

“What do you want to be?” the prosecutor, Sharon Marcus-Kurn, asked.

“A chef,” she said.

The girl, in a blue sweater, her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, clawed discreetly at a foam squeeze ball during four hours of testimony. She was such a small figure on the witness stand that only her head and shoulders were visible to the lawyers questioning her in Vazquez’s trial on five child sexual abuse charges.

“Disgusting,” was how she described her alleged encounters with Vazquez, who was an assistant pastor at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Church in the Columbia Heights area of Northwest Washington before he was arrested late last year.

“Gross,” she added in a low voice.

“Yes, it hurt,” she said quietly.

Vazquez, ordained as a priest in the Capuchin Franciscan order in 2014, is accused of two counts of felony second-degree child sexual abuse and one count of misdemeanor child sexual abuse of the girl. He also is charged with two counts of felony second-degree child sexual abuse for allegedly groping a 13-year-old female parishioner. That girl is expected to testify Thursday.

As Marcus-Kurn gently questioned the girl, gradually eliciting her story of alleged abuse, Vazquez, clad in a black suit, listened impassively at the defendant’s table.

On the witness stand, picking at the little foam ball, the girl said Vazquez kissed her and grabbed her “private parts,” front and back, “a lot of times,” in the church — including in the sacristy — and during a religious retreat in Delaware.

The first time it happened, “in the back of the church,” she said, “I was, like, in full shock, and I couldn’t move my body.”

As more such incidents happened, the girl said, she kept them a secret from her mother because she was “scared something worser would happen” if Vazquez got mad.

Marcus-Kurn asked her specifically what she was afraid of.

“Like, rape,” the girl replied.

But she said she eventually worked up the courage to tell her mother what was happening. “I started getting angrier and getting bad grades,” she told the jury. “I couldn’t, like, hold on. I wanted to be done with it.”

Near the end of her testimony in the late afternoon, Judge Juliet J. McKenna ordered a 10-minute recess, and the girl got up and walked out of the courtroom. Marcus-Kurn’s colleague, prosecutor J. Matt Williams, approached the empty witness stand and saw what was left of the squeeze ball. It had been clawed to shreds.

He scooped up the remnants with both hands and dropped them in a recycling bucket.


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